On top of Eden Falls at the end of the Lost Valley Trail in the Buffalo National River Wilderness there is a cave where the waterfall's source has carved the rocks. Below, there is a pool. From the pool, The Observer could look up and see the water trickle over a mossy crag.
Our group helped a family take pictures there. They took pictures of us, The Observer and two friends.
For a while, we talked about struggling with a few looming choices. Not a big deal actually, but they felt big. We discussed actions and their consequences. Then, we climbed up to the top and the cave.
Here, at the birth of Eden Falls, thin mud is lathered onto the rocks like soap. "Do you want to go see what's back there?" one friend asked. It had not even occurred to The Observer as an option. The Observer, without this friend, would have seen the cave and turned around. "Maybe there's something back there," the friend said, into the darkness. We started edging in.
This friend grew up around the area. Now, he was just visiting for the weekend. The Observer wondered, looking at his back as we went into the cave, if he was always the type to suggest these things. In our college town, he would often climb the trees along the street and delay a walk home. So this wasn't new. Nor was it new for The Observer to follow. From the road in college, all of us would enjoy watching him climb.
The first memories though, before then, were actually of another Eden, and exploring with him in a silly, rambling, and half-baked discussion the idea of free will, that one should bite the apple. Eve freed us. He also said she trapped us, The Observer remembers. The burden of choice. "I want to choose not to choose," we liked to say.
He told me once that his desire to explore impressed his girlfriend when they were first getting to know one another. She probably liked that he was careless. And he liked, he said, that she made him careless. The Observer can recall watching her smile a little bigger than the rest of us. She was the other friend on Sunday, going back into the cave. A nice deal, for The Observer, that the two friends were together.
With an iPhone flashlight, The Observer followed the friends back. The cave was cool, even a bit cold. Soon, The Observer could not see. Spaciousness retreated, too. Chatter died. We hit an area where crawling was required and The Observer got on hands and knees, inching forward. A small pack on The Observer's back containing a bag of pretzels hit the top of the rock, making a crunching sound.
Normally, The Observer does not like tight spaces or heights. The freedom of looking out over a cliff and the lack of choice crammed into a crevice feel similar. If not the same, they are at least in harmony. The Observer gives up a certain something to the world at these points — hopefully no gust pulls me over the edge, hopefully nothing lodges me in this crack. The Observer knows, but cannot compute, that most times things end up fine. In the moment, The Observer just must not fear the unknown. The key is to not struggle, but to be OK with what is happening.
After crawling, we popped up on our feet, dodging eroded stones, and came to a large cavern. Two falls emptied into it. The source of Eden Falls. The Observer's friend — the one that climbs trees — said we should turn off all our flashlights, to see how it felt.
When they clicked off, a strong sense of vertigo hit. The Observer felt the sensation of falling. It was all black. We clicked the flashlights back on, finding ourselves in the caves again. Looking up, now a whiplash sense of enclosure, fear of being trapped, the two falls and all cave. Don't freak out. The Observer looked down, shining the light at each friend's face, and we giggled. "Pretty trippy," one of them said. We crawled back out and went to a swimming hole, content to waste the day.